Review of Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com, September 22, 2015)
Binti is the adventure of a young woman leaving her tribe behind to accept admission to a university off Earth. Her tribe, the Himba, doesn’t have access to much un-salted water so they wash with a special mixture of red mud and oils. They cover their bodies and hair with it. No one from her tribe has ever gone to the prestigious Oozma Uni.
Binti travels on a space ship full of other students and soon finds the other math nerds. They settle into a routine and she even finds a young man to admire. However, their ship is attacked by aliens who broke the peace treaty with the humans. It turns out that humans stole something belonging to the chief alien and he wants it back. Binti only learns this after she uses some old technology to communicate with the aliens, who are called the Meduse. She communicates with a young adult Meduse named Okwu and manages to stay alive until they are almost to Oozma Uni. Her old technology can also be used to destroy the Meduse so she must set it aside. She is changed so she can communicate without the technology which can destroy Meduse and speaks as their ambassador to the sentients at Oozma Uni.
Binti has to be one of the most interesting and unusual characters in all of science fiction. I love that she is female and has unbelievable math skills; as an engineer I find it difficult to understand the common perceptions regarding girls and math, since obviously they don’t apply to me. It was great to find a young adult female character to whom they obviously don’t apply, either! She even has skills with making devices, which makes her a totally cool techie girl too.
Her heritage and family background make her desire to go off-planet even more interesting, and the explanations of her culture were very educational as well as interesting. Sometimes the cultures you aren’t part of on earth can be just as amazing as an alien one written in a science fiction setting. This story has a great helping of both types!
We had better see Binti again, as Okorafor left us hanging with her just calling her mother from Oozma Uni for the first time. All we know is that mom picked up the call! So the next story had better arrive really soon! Also, someone needs to make Binti art so we can see her new hair and her interesting clothes. Perhaps we can get a full body shot of her and Okwu on a future cover?
If you love Janet Edward’s Earthgirl series, or Brenda Cooper’s generation ship novels, then you better buy this gem of a novella right away! All lovers of science fiction adventure will want to read this wonderful story.